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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Uwadia takes e-revolution to podium

The usefulness of software to economic revival was outlined by Prof. Charles Uwadia in his inaugural lecture recently in Lagos. REMMY NWEKE, who was there reports that software involvement in information and communication technology cannot be over-emphasized.

Pen-ultimate Wednesday, at the Main Auditorium, University of Lagos (UNILAG) Akoka, Lagos, the National President, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Prof. Charles Onuwa Uwadia delivered an inaugural lecture as a professor of computer sciences of UNILAG.

The centre of gravity at the occasion was ‘Software Systems: The Driving Force Behind the e-Revolution’ through which Uwadia made several advocacy and projects the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as well as stakeholders in the country in driving Nigeria towards electronic economies.

NCS is the umbrella body of some Information Technology (IT) industry groups, namely the Information Technology Industry Association of Nigeria (ITAN), Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) and National Association of Computer Science Students (NACOSS) among others.

Prof. Uwadia used the chance to call, for instance, on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and commercial banks in the country to set aside a special fund to assist start-up businesses, mostly in the area of software development.

Uwadia, who is also the Director, Centre for Information Technology and Systems (CITS) at UNILAG, told ITRealms Online that inaugural lecturers are usually stepping stone in actualizing a professorial status in any reputed institution and the University of Lagos is not alone in this exercise.

“It normally should be given shortly after being appointed as a Professor,” he declared, saying that he decided on the theme, ‘Software Systems: The Driving Force Behind the e-Revolution’ because his research and teaching over the past three decades have been on software systems, stressing that he has passion to showcase the impact of software systems could have in human lives in today’s information society and knowledge economy.

By setting aside a special fund to assist start-ups in the country, Uwadia said, that particularly for those practicing in the software industry, it would pave the way for sustenance and growing existing software developers. Advising that indigenous software industry should be sheltered by the federal government and it’s ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) through patronage.

“The indigenous software industry should be protected, through the enactment of a law that mandates Ministries, Departments and Agencies to patronize indigenous software as the first choice,” he advocated, urging private sector operators to collaborate with government in the building of critical mass of Information Technology (IT) professionals for the software industry.

Prof. Uwadia noted that in the knowledge economy, software industry is the power house of any nation’s socio-economic development, maintaining that software industry creates value to the society in the area of services delivered through software systems. “It empowers youths in a sustainable way through the creation of jobs,” he said.

Uwadia underscored the fact that through the software industry has not been optimised, he said, Nigeria as a nation can assume a global identity by being an outsourcing destination or on the strength of product brands and identity. And in order to participate in the e-revolution, he said, Nigeria has to be a notable player in the software industry.

The government, according to Uwadia, should create enabling environment through the provision of reliable and affordable infrastructure, which is mainly electricity, network and communications, security, software testing facility to name a few, asserting “A model to achieve this is through the creation of Information Technology (IT) parks in all zones.”

He also urged the government to provide fiscal incentives for indigenous software developers in form of tax incentives and tariff rebates, describing software systems as programmes or collection of programmes or suite of programmes that deliver the functionalities or outcomes required by the designers or users.

“Software is that seemingly intangible part of a computer system or computational or communication device that makes things happen; that gives effect to the developer’s thoughts as expressed logically in form or instructions when processed or executed by a computer or device containing a processor,” Uwadia said, elucidating that software is usually created or written in a programming language, even as he described programming language as an artificial language designed to express computations that can be performed by a computer or other computational devices.

A programming language, Prof. Uwadia said, could be classified as low level or high cum very high level, explaining that the low level languages include machine languages and assembly or mnemonic representation of machine language; While the high and very high level languages are simply high and very high level abstraction of computations or expressions.

The earliest high level programming languages, he listed to comprise FORTRAN, ALGOL, ADA, BASIC, COBOL, LISP. PL/I and PASCAL, to name a few; challenging Nigeria to take advantage of the on-going e-revolution to push further economic development.

The professor said the contributions of Africa and Nigeria in particular has nothing to write home about as of date, noting that apart from the contributions of Nigerians in diaspora, the country has remained onlooker, bystander and at best beneficiary and consumer of these revolutions.

The e-Revolution, information society, knowledge economy have all been with Nigerians for quite some time, and is still unfolding, urging that Nigeria take advantage of the unfolding aspect to make her impact felt.

As said by Uwadia, the 21st century has been largely referred to as the Digital Century and Nigeria needs to take the digital advantage of the emerging scenarios in order to minimize the challenges of the digital divide.

This, he said would save the nation from an impending digital disaster that could lead Nigeria to becoming a digital colony, outlining some five-point agenda for Nigeria, including a framework for participating in the e-revolution, software development policy, software development curricular and instruction in educational institutions, development of the software industry and models for adopting computing and computerization as a way of life.

“We must join the club of Digitally Wealthy Nations,” he declared, stressing that Nigeria needs a framework for participating in the e-revolution arena, suggesting that Nigeria should fall back on the declaration of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) and derivatives of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Even as Nigeria should blend these documents with some of the her national initiatives such as the National Economic Empowerment Strategy (NEEDS), Vision 20-2020, National Information Technology Policy and Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) among others.

He insisted that when properly implemented, the aforementioned documents and initiatives would put Nigeria on the path of active participation in the e-revolution.

“I wish to note with gladness that the National IT policy of 2001 has been reviewed by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) working with stakeholders, while the reviewed policy should be approved by the Federal Executive Council without further delay for full implementation,” he said.

Uwadia also called for a National Policy on Software Development, saying that it should be developed and implemented. This policy, he said, should be driven from the National IT Policy framework thereby becoming a strategic imperative for nation building, development and creation of wealth.

“I am happy to report that NITDA has recently set up a committee headed by Prof. O.C. Akinyokun of the Federal University of Technology (FUTO) Akure, to produce a National Policy on Software Development,” he said.

On the software development curricular and instruction in educational institutions, Prof. Uwadia noted that this entails that principles, techniques and tools should be accorded greater attention in the curricular of computer sciences and information technology programmes in the educational institutions.

“Exposure to programming at the most basic form should begin at either kindergarten or primary school level,” he said.

The NCS president pointed out that while principles and techniques of programming do not change too often, programming tools evolve and new ones are developed quite rapidly.

“Therefore, provision should be made for constant review of that aspect of programme curricular,” Uwadia said, that over the years, many students detest the word ‘programming’ simply because they perceive programming courses as difficult subjects that should be avoided where possible and except where the courses are compulsory. Hence, they do everything possible to obtain pass mark, which is similar to the perception of mathematics by students in secondary schools.

Uwadia advocated for creation of incentives and motivation for the learning of programming, which could be done by creating stimulating learning environment through the provision of adequately equipped computer laboratories, award prizes and according recognition for outstanding performance.

He said the formation of software development clubs in schools, for instance, would boost networking for the exchange of ideas and knowledge as well as organizing more software competitions in schools.

“Teachers and lecturers handling programming courses should retraining and retool regularly. They must keep abreast of development in the area among others,” Uwadia said.

Equally speaking on the lecture, the chairman, publicity and trade services at NCS, Mr. Tajudeen Ejalonibu, said that the society is excited that this is happening at a time they have such a distinguished personality as president.

While applauding NCS members for making the day a graceful one, Ejalonibu commended Prof. Uwadia for making his lecture a worthy of emulation for other scholars across Nigeria.

In his remarks, former president of NCS, Dr. Chris Nwannenna was full of eulogies for his successor at NCS, saying that what all this means is that NCS and its membership did not make wrong choice on picking Uwadia to take over the mantle of leadership. “I think he is steering well” he declared.

Noteworthy is that at the 21st national conference of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Prof. Uwadia, emerged the 10th national president of the Society; thereby taking over from Dr. Nwannenna, following the completion of his two terms in office.

Prof. Uwadia, a native of Ukala-Okpuno in Oshimili Local Government Area of Delta State, was born on June 7, 1956 at Ibadan in Oyo State. He attended St. Charles Grammar School, Osogbo (1970 – 1974) and holds a BSc. Degree honours in Computer Science from the University of Ibadan in 1979. Following the completion of his National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) programme with the Polytechnic Ibadan, Uwadia went on to obtain Master of Science in 1983 and followed this up with a PhD in 1990 both at the University of Lagos.

Uwadia who joined the services of the University of Lagos as an Assistant Lecturer in 1983, rose progressively to the post of a full professor in 2004 with his specialization being Software Engineering with emphasis on Compiling Techniques and Systems Software.

An active member of Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) and the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria, Prof. Uwadia overtly described as a quiet and disciplined scholar is a fellow of NCS. Before emerging the president of NCS, Uwadia had served the society in various capacities comprising of Chairman, Education Committee (1997 – 1999); Chairman, Conferences Committee (1999 – 2003); Chairman, Publications Committee (2003 – July 2007).

In addition of his desirable services in Nigeria, Prof. Uwadia has been a visiting Fellow to universities and institutions in the United States of America, United Kingdom, Italy and Australia. Generally seen as a detribalized Nigerian, Uwadia holds liberal views about life and is happily married with three children.

In all, the message of the lecture is the enthronement of software as a veritable tool for national development and until we see MDAs led by NITDA stop paying lip service to such recommendations as outlined by the professor of software engineering, Nigeria may not see the Vision 20-2020 manifesting.

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